South Carolina: The Palmetto tour continued.
This is part 2 of my blog about my visit to South Carolina while on my road trips
On my way home from Florida, I was able to spend 2 more days (day and a half technically) back in South Carolina. It gave me more time to enjoy the state and spend more time with my friend. It also gave me more of a chance to get to know people who lived there and see how cool they were. This was proven even more during this second time there while hanging out with one of best people I have ever known (Sarah) and her friends upstairs at the Icehouse restaurant in Summerville just a little west of Charleston.
The people there, who I had never met, were just great…all of them. I never felt that comfortable around complete strangers and haven’t had that much fun in public in a while. I was also able to hear some talented singers at an open mic night, which is a change from the drivel offered up here in Michigan. Maybe the music sung was just more my style. In 2011 Travel and Leisure named Charleston “America’s most friendly city” a well as “most polite and hospitable city in America” by Southern Living Magazine. I saw absolutely nothing to prove otherwise. .
Historic Downtown Charleston
The nice part about this trip was that I was able to see and do things in SC with someone else and not alone. I stopped in Savannah before going to Tybee Island on the way down and it was a nice but not a town for a guy traveling alone it felt. It seemed like a town better for couples and even 1 big man like me doesn’t constitute a couple.
Part of the draw of South Carolina for me was spending time with Sarah, one of my best friends and very important person in my life who is as big of history nerd as I am. Because of personal issues on my end, we had not been able to see each other on her last trip to Michigan when her and her fiancée came up. Our ability to be fun goofy dorks and completely ourselves when we are hanging out together always makes for a good time. Finding someone you are that comfortable with all the time is rare. It also makes a wonderful traveling companion for the day. So after getting some direction from her finance (who decided not to join us) we ventured into downtown Charleston, the historic part. Of course, I was running late (Florida tried trapping me with construction) as was the norm for this trip so we got a late start. We made it downtown in the late afternoon so many of tourists seemed to be leaving. During our abbreviated time in this part of town, we spent it all south of Beaufain street (see map).
We lucked out and found a great parking spot near the Battery, which sits right on Charleston bay. I was looking forward to this part of my road trip a lot because of the perfect company, my love of history and old buildings. A town as old as Charleston is full of both of them. We walked around the park for a bit and looked at some cannons then walked on the walkway along the water then an urgent matter caused us to head into the neighborhood.
Homes and Houses
It seemed like every house in historic Charleston that we saw had its own identity and individual charm. Since the town is one of the most historic in the USA every home and building has to have a plaque on it saying who or what family lived there and what if any historical significance it has. So you are literally stopping at every house to read something. Many of these homes, which look very similar to how they did in the 1700 and 1800 hundred, are mansions not all but many. Perhaps not by today’s standards but back in the day they were. They were that classic southern colonial style of mansions.
Walking around I felt the 300 plus years of rich history go past and around me. So much happened on these very streets both good and bad, so many important things for our country happened here it was tough to not think about it. One of the houses I saw was owned by a signer of the Declaration Of Independence.
One of cooler things I enjoyed seeing was the architectural change as you walked around this part of town. Every few streets the designs and looks would change slightly or greatly and reflected the various cultural influences the town has seen since its founding in 1670. It is the oldest city in the South Eastern United States and was originally called Charles Town and named after King Charles the 2nd. I noticed heavy English and French influences in the buildings and how these were built, designed and laid out as well as West African attributes especially with the bright colors. The buildings of one street might have a more cozy old English feel and look to them, at least that was my impression.
While the next street over would have a very French feel and look with the large and decorative metal porches and overhangs similar to what you would see in New Orleans. I am not an expert on architecture I just appreciate cool old things so bear with me since I am sure I am not using the right terminology for some of this. One street in particular, which I nicknamed rainbow row (may have a real name), had houses with extremely bright colors, which showing its West African and Caribbean influence via immigrants from Barbados.
Charleston takes great care in keeping this part of town historic and looking that way. Judging by the insane number of building permits people need just to remodel or renovate a home I don’t see this ever changing…for the better I say. I assume people who can afford these homes want them because of their rich history and its matter of pride for them… I know I would if could afford one. Privacy walls of stone surround many houses as well as metal ones, which often look as old as the homes themselves. Some of them have no walls and the front door is right at the sidewalk and screams colonial America. Many of the homes still had gas lit lights on the outside of the homes, which I especially enjoyed seeing for no rational reason why other than I thought they looked cool. We kept going from one sign to the other reading everything because that is what we do. The sidewalks were freaky small in places and I damn near fell a few time since they are not exactly level. The streets often are made of brick or cobblestone as they would have been a century ago…I thought that was cool also.
All the pretty Gardens
Another cool design aspect I saw while walking around were the gardens. In most neighborhoods today, at least in the suburbs and rural areas people have grass yards around their house. In this part of Charleston, they have gardens…almost all of them have some sort of garden. It seemed that they took great care in making them look immaculate as well as unique for each owner. I have never seen so many small ponds, fountains, different types of bushes, flowers and trees shoved into such a small area. I really got a kick out of seeing these almost as much as I did the houses themselves. As a writer who longs for quiet and peaceful places, I was quite envious of these and really wanted to just pop into one and write for a bit…with some wine of course.
The funny thing is that these were not some historical buildings maintained for mere looks but actual homes often. People live every day or part of the time in these. I wonder how long it took them to get used to people walking by and taking pictures of their homes, peaking thru the windows; it would freak me for sure. It is something that would have people in a normal city calling the cops and getting into fights….ahh but not in the lovely south. Even walking around we would occasionally see homeowners out doing yard work or sitting on their porches and they waved, smiled and said hello. Two old women who were sitting on their screened in deck having tea or something and were very interested in Sarah and I as we walked around and waved at us twice. Of course I waved back, it would be impolite not to. I heard their comments, which I won’t put on here, but it was very sweet.
This town is proud of its own history and as we trudged on, I saw more antique shops than I ever have. On one street, the businesses went two antique shops, Tommy Bahamas’, antique shop, café, Versace ( I think), antique shop. These antique shops were not something you see at a flea market but were very high end. Sadly, all of them were closed since it was early in the evening. Which still surprised me since it was only like 5:30 or so. Maybe on the next visit I will have to check these out.
As we walked we found a cute little French Wine bar, sat, and enjoyed some French wine served by a lovely French women who I think was the owner. The non-matching wooden tables and chairs as well as the art really gave it a charming feel. It made me think of a place one would see in Paris such as Caf de Flore or Les Deux Magots where writing giants such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald would sit and write in the 20’s. Thankfully, we both like dry red wines so it was easy picking something out. We sat down at quiet window seat and talked about life as we watched other travelers and tourists walk past. It was one of the best parts of my whole trip. The cafe was called Bin 152 near King Street and Queen Street in the French Quarter and I highly suggest stopping in if you are in town.
One of the things I wanted to do when planning this road trip was go thru an old graveyard. I have a weird fascination with graveyards. However, I did not go to the one I wanted to because I could not find it, so, we settled for a smaller one that was between some homes and an old church. It was just a cool place to walk around and read some of the gravestones. I am adding my missed cemetery to my “to-do” list next time I am in Charleston.
There was a great bar called Wet Willy’s in downtown Charleston. I actually really liked the large open area of this bar and the old building that it was inside of. The unique thing about this bar was that they had a wall of frozen daiquiris, all of which contained alcohol it was amazing despite the constant ice-cream headaches but it’s something I have never seen anywhere else. However going to bars on my travels isn’t a high priority for me so these slushy bars may exist other places. It is worth a shot even if you are not a big drinker just don’t get the call-a-cab apparently if you have more than 2 they take your keys and call a cab. They had a nice looking food menu, which I did not order from. I imagine this place is rockin at night.
Isle of Palms
This was a nice beach town on the ocean, seemed low-key, and chill. This is where we spent most of the last day I was in town. I am not sure why it is called Isle of Palms though since I did not see many. Sarah explained to me that this was where all the tourists go and not where the locals go which was north of Edisto beach. We thought it was going to be cool and rainy on this day but it turned out to be very nice. It is funny how different the ocean water here looked compared to what I spent a week with on the west side of Florida; it was much cooler and nowhere near as clear. The beach was not busy so we had a nice spot without people sitting on top of us. Again the effects of the in between season were obvious here with the lack of people. The beach was very large and I saw many people walking dogs, which is something I always love to see and hate about Michigan where they are not usually allowed. My dog Harley who I miss a lot came to mind often here since this would have been a perfect beach for her to run and play at. We went swimming for quite a while and dealt with some light rip currents in certain spots, causing me to drag Sarah behind me while I walked against them. I was ultra-paranoid of jellyfish while swimming and specifically the Portuguese variety, surprisingly I was not worried about sharks at all. The water was a little cool but you got used to it quick and as it got warmer it felt nice. It is a good beach for kids to run and play and there is a lot of room and at least on this day very relaxing.
We played rummy for a bit, had some beers and smoked on the top floor of Coconut Joes, which we had to ourselves for the most part. I thought it was nice the beer was crazy overpriced though. The stereo was playing beach/surf themed music and at one point Otis Reddings song ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay‘ came on and it felt very fitting. The view from the top was great and the breeze felt good since we both got a little too much sun. I do wonder what the nightlife is like at this place since things were being set up for an open mic or some singer. Nightlife on the Carolina and Georgia coast in the summer is something I have not much experienced yet but I hope to. As far as beaches go, this one was okay but it was the company that made it great.
Later that night, after dinner at Los Arcos (amazing fresh guacamole BTW), some relaxing over a movie and one of the hardest goodbyes ever I took off into the night toward Asheville, North Carolina. I look forward to hanging out with Sarah and Dean more on my next trip down. On an interesting note the same moon on the state flag of South Carolina was in the sky during my visit and dipped below the mountains when I head into North Carolina.